Rick Holland–Evan Dobbins Little Big Band / Empire Jazz Orchestra / Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra
The Rick HollandEvan Dobbins Little Big Band
Five years after a sensational opening act (In Time's Shadow, 2006), trumpeter Rick Holland and trombonist Evan Dobbins have returned for an encore, Trilby, marshaling as before their irrepressible Little Big Band. As was noted of that earlier recording, "the only thing small about [this band] is its numbers." Baritone saxophonist Dean Keller, who shared that chair with Kerry Strayer on Shadow, also returns. The rest of the lineup is brand new, with Evan Dobbins' dad, the well-known educator Bill Dobbins (Eastman School of Music), replacing the splendid pianist John Nyerges.
Besides shining at the keyboard, Bill Dobbins wrote "My Darling Darlene" and arranged half of the album's other ten numbers. Although he doesn't play this time around, Strayer composed "Rich's Call" and arranged Sonny Stitt's "Eternal Triangle" and Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism," while Brent Wallarab wrote "Trilby" and arranged Benny Golson's "Stablemates." Bill Dobbins' engaging charts brighten three originals by Hendrik Meurkens"Slidin," "Second Waltz," "The Cottage"as well as Hal Crook's "Fused" and Alec Wilder's lovely standard, "While We're Young" (a reprise from the band's earlier album). Several song titleson my copyare transposed on the jacket and insert. Instead of "Stablemates," "Slidin," "Eternal Triangle" and "Second Waltz," as listed, the playing order for the first four tracks is "Stablemates," "Second Waltz," "Slidin," "Eternal Triangle." In the course of producing an album, these things can sometimes happen (I'm told the error has since been corrected). A second oversight lies in the omission of a complete list of personnel.
Holland, who plays flugelhorn exclusively, solos strongly on seven numbers, striking the ball with assurance and perception on every turn at bat. Bill Dobbins ("Slidin," "The Cottage," "Trilby," "Darlene," "Tricotism") amplifies the message, as do Evan Dobbins ("Slidin," "Fused"), Doug Stone (alto on "Stablemates," clarinet on "Second Waltz," soprano on "Trilby" and "While We're Young"), tenor Mike Pendowski ("Eternal Triangle," "Fused," "Rich's Call"), trombonist Nick Finzer ("Second Waltz," "Tricotism"), bassist David Baron ("The Cottage," "Tricotism") and blue-chip drummer Rich Thompson ("Eternal Triangle," "Fused," "Rich's Call"). When they're not having their say, the ensemble is front and center, giving each of the charts its single-minded attention. The result is music that flows easily without miscue.
Aside from the minor blemishes already noted, none of which impinges upon the music itself, Trilby marks a second triumph by the Holland / Dobbins Little Big Band, which, as was noted after its debut album, "is more big than little, in every sense of the word." Those who appreciate a tight, swinging band, even if slightly undersized, are sure to admire Trilby.
Empire Jazz Orchestra
Symphonies in Riffs
To set the scene, the Empire Jazz Orchestra is a nineteen-member professional ensemble founded in 1992 and currently in residence at the Schenectady Community College in upstate New York. Symphonies in Riffs is the EJO's fourth album, all of which have been recorded in concert. As is evident from the outset, the repertoire is wide-ranging, embracing on this occasion compositions by Benny Carter, Don Redman, Charles Mingus, Fletcher Henderson, Don Menza, Maria Schneider, Irving Berlin and Louis Prima, as well as contemporary works by Daniel Barry and the EJO's Keith Pray.
Any session that opens with Carter's genial "Symphony in Riffs" is guaranteed to elicit a broad grin, while Barry's seductive "Checkered Demon" and Henderson's sunny "Stampede" run it a close second / third in the spontaneous smile department. Redman's "Cupid's Nightmare," Carter's "The Legend" and Prima's classic "Sing, Sing, Sing" hearken back to the Swing Era," Pray's "The Gate" and Menza's free-wheeling "Time Check" to the more recent advent of big bands (the latter was a staple in drummer Buddy Rich's book). For modernists, there are Schneider's sinuous "Wyrgly" and Mingus' shadowy "Children's Hour of Dream." Completing the program are Colleen Pratt's respectable vocals on "Too Close for Comfort" and Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek."
Of course, the presumptive listener needs to know not only what music is on offer but how well it is played. The answer, in this case, is quite well indeed. The EJO is secure as a unit, its soloists sharp and pleasing. They include trumpeters Peter Bellino, Steve Lambert and Terry Gordon; altos Pray and Jim Corigliano, tenors Kevin Barcomb and Brian Patneaude, trombonist Gary Barrow and guitarist Jack Fragomeni. Clarinetist Brett Wery and drummer Bob Halek sit in for Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa on "Sing, Sing, Sing." Halek is similarly impressive on "Wyrgly" and in fact throughout the concert, as are his colleagues in the rhythm section. For a concert performance, the sound is by and large satisfactory albeit a touch cramped; not enough, however, to impair the listening experience. The music more than makes up for that trivial shortcoming.
Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra
Even though it has been around for more than twenty years, the Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra is, to weigh the matter frankly, less than a household name, not even in its home base of Sanford, NC. More's the pity, as every moderate-sized city should be lucky enough to have an ensemble of this caliber residing within its precincts.
On Jazz Encounters which may be the orchestra's debut recording (no information about others could be found), the bill of fare runs the gamut from jazz and popular standards to a folk theme ("Danny Boy"), a spiritual ("Deep River") and jazz arrangements of well-known classical works by Brahms, Dvorak, Beethoven and Debussy (commissioned by the Heart of Carolina Jazz Society). Most of the charts were written by Paula Kelly Jr., a former staff arranger for a number of military bands including the formidable Airmen of Note, or the orchestra's music director, Gregg Gelb, who doubles (triples?) on alto sax. The exceptions are Count Basie / Harry James / Benny Goodman's venerable "Two O'Clock Jump," Henry Mancini's Oscar-winning "Days of Wine and Roses" (neatly arranged by Nat Pierce), Willie Maiden's "A Little Minor Booze" and Bill Holman's sunny "Theme and Variations No. 2." There are two original compositions, Gelb's "Hopscotch" and "I Cared for You" (based on the standard "I Should Care"). While none of the charts breaks new ground, each one is bright and engaging.
Soloists aren't listed, but surely that must be Gelb having his say on ten of the album's sixteen numbers including "Minor Booze," "Danny Boy," Dvorak's "Goin' Home," Debussy's "My Reverie," "Deep River" and "Hopscotch." Guitarist Fred Brush is featured on Kelly's lively arrangement of "Them There Eyes." Unnamed soloists (trombone, trumpet) are as capable as can be foreseen from a community-based orchestra. Although the sound is respectable, it lacks the perceptible clarity and separation that are the hallmark of more seasoned and well-equipped recording studios. Not enough, however, to lessen the average listener's enjoyment or appreciation. These are by and large Jazz Encounters of the pleasurable kind.
Jazz Conceptions Orchestra
First things first. The The Jazz Conceptions Orchestra isn't really an orchestra. Not even close. In point of fact, it's a nonet (tentet on one number). On the other hand, as nonets go, it's a very good one indeed, often coaxing a big band sound from two trumpets, three saxophones, a trombone and rhythm, thanks to resourceful charts by leader / trumpeter Alex Nguyen, alto saxophonist Alex LoRe and baritone Matt Zettlemoyer. Nguyen arranged the heart-rending "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," Miles Davis' picturesque "Flamenco Sketches" and Ben Webster's buoyant "Better Go," LoRe his brisk "Morning Walk" (showcasing Nguyen's eloquent flugelhorn), Bud Powell's bustling "Parisian Thoroughfare" (the session's only fade) and John Coltrane's oft-heard "Moment's Notice," Zettlemoyer his colorful "Changes" and Jimmy Heath's lyrical "Gemini." In their capable hands, each one sings and sparkles.
Trombonist Robert Edwards and tenor Jeremy Fratti take their only solos on "Better Go," and they are better late than never, keeping pace with incisive statements by pianist Joshua Bowlus and bassist Paul Sikivie. Elsewhere, Nguyen, LoRe and trumpeter Brandon Lee are most often heard, while Zettlemoyer has his moment in the sun on "Gemini," drummer Ben Adkins on "Moment's Notice" and guitarist Ryan Roselle on "Sad Young Men." Adkins introduces "Moment's Notice," on which LoRe uses a choral development before ushering in the more familiar theme, which in turn presages lively solos by himself and Lee. Nguyen and LoRe are the soloists on "Changes," Lee and Bowlus on "Sketches," LoRe, Zettlemoyer and Bowlus on "Gemini," Nguyen (in Clifford Brown guise) and Sikilvie on "Thoroughfare" (whose blueprint includes a fleeting reference to "And the Angels Sing").
' These young musicians, most of whom came of age through the excellent Jazz Studies program at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, clearly learned their lessons well. The ensemble is snug and swinging, the rhythm section, securely anchored by Adkins, sharp and supportive, the soloists spry and seductive. Beyond that, the charts are invariably bright and pleasing. So it's only a nonet; after the first few measures of "Moment's Notice" that's no longer an issue.
The Mike Cado Tentet
Nimmons 'n' Nine . . . Now
Here's another group that isn't quite a big band, nor does it aspire to be. On Nimmons 'n' Nine . . . Now, guitarist Mike Cado's tentet bows warmly to Canada's celebrated composer / arranger / leader Phil Nimmons, now eighty-seven years young, who formed his popular ensemble Nimmons 'n' Nine almost fifty-eight years ago, in 1953. Clarinetist John MacMurchy sits in for Nimmons, four of whose sunny compositions complement MacMurchy's "The Back Alley," baritone saxophonist David Mott's "Spirals" and a pair by alto Andy Ballantyne ("Then and Now," "But It's Dark . . ."). Nimmons wrote "It Sounds Like You," "Tipsy," "Carey Dance" and "Just for You," none of which has been heard on a recording in more than forty years.
Besides the guitar and clarinet, the group is comprised of three saxophones, trumpet, trombone, bass, drums and accordion, which is the same line-up used by Nimmons in his original ensemble. The result is a sound that must be akin to that produced by its predecessor; surely, with half the tunes written by Nimmons it can't be far from the mark, albeit perhaps a touch more contemporary in spirit and substance. Ballantyne's "Then and Now," based on the traditional 12-bar blues form, nods toward Nimmons' seminal band while bringing things up to date behind urbane solos by trombonist William Carn, tenor Kelly Jefferson and baritone Mott. While Nimmons wrote "Sounds Like You" as a trombone feature, trumpeter Jason Logue saddles up and sprints eagerly across the finish line. Ballantyne's "But It's Dark . . . ," inspired by his son Neil's response when told it's time for bed, is a minor-key bossa that features Ballantyne's alto and Tom Szczeniak's accordion. Nimmons' genial "Tipsy," a loping clarinet feature for MacMurchy, precedes the most "modern" fare on the menu, Mott's "Spirals," which he describes as a succession of musical ideas "which cycle, rotate, ascend and descend." That they do, underscoring Jefferson's sharp, agile tenor.
"Carey Dance" is a robust flag-waver with crisp solos by Cado, Szczesniak, Carn and drummer Anthony Michelli, "The Back Alley" a picturesque tone poem whose purpose is "to conjure images of an alley behind a nightclub in a district of nightclubs" inhabited by "the usual denizens of the back alley: winos, hookers, dope dealers . . ." Jefferson, Szczeniak, MacMurchy and Mott share solo honors. The group wraps things up with "Just for Now," a handsome Nimmons ballad written for the superb alto saxophonist Jerry Toth, on which Ballantyne shines in a starring role.
Nimmons has long been one of Canada's musical treasures, and it's gratifying to know that there are others whose purpose is to help keep his music alive. Cado's quintet has not only outpaced that goal but has, in the bargain, produced a splendid CD that is notably impressive on its own terms.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Stablemates; Slidin; The Eternal Triangle; Second Waltz; The Cottage; Trilby; Fused; My Darling Darlene; While We're Young; Tricotism; Rich's Call.
Personnel: Rick Holland: co-leader, flugelhorn; Evan Dobbins: co-leader, trombone; Jeff Ostroski: trumpet; Dave Hart: trumpet; Doug Stone: alto, soprano sax; Mike Pendowski: tenor sax; Dean Keller: baritone sax; Nick Finzer: trombone; Bill Dobbins: piano; David Baron: bass; Rich Thompson: drums.
Symphonies in Riffs
Tracks: Symphony in Riffs; The Legend; Too Close for Comfort; Cheek to Cheek; Time Check; Cupid's Nightmare; Children's Hour of Dream; The Checkered Demon; The Stampede; Wyrgly; The Gate: A Portrait of the Mohawk; Sing, Sing, Sing.
Tracks: A Little Minor Booze; Them There Eyes; Mambo Inn; Danny Boy; Hungarian Dance No. 5; Goin' Home; Over the Waves; Joyful; Arabesque No. 1; Themes and Variations No. 2; My Reverie; I Cared for You; Two O'Clock Jump; Deep River; Days of Wine and Roses; Hopscotch.
Personnel: Gregg Gelb: director; Kyle Santos: trumpet; Rob Hill: trumpet; Doug Lilly: trumpet (1-3, 5, 7, 9, 11); Steve Callas: trumpet; Jason Bohde (4, 6, 8, 10, 12-16): trumpet; Gregg Gelb, Charles Shermer, Don Larson, Pat Gallarelli, Darin Knapp: reeds; Joel Leipzig: trombone; Chris Shaw: trombone; Don Wazzenegger (4, 6, 8, 10, 12-16): trombone; Doug Bristol: trombone (1-3, 5, 7, 9, 11); George Ellwanger: trombone; Steve Menendez: piano; Fred Brush: guitar (1-3, 11); Steve Boletchek: bass (1-3, 5, 7, 9, 11); George Knott: bass (4, 6, 8, 10, 12-16); Tom Bernett: drums (4, 6, 8, 10, 12-16); Chris Gelb: drums (1-3, 5, 7, 9, 11).
Jazz Conceptions Orchestra
Tracks: Moment's Notice; Changes; Flamenco Sketches; Gemini; A Morning Walk; Parisian Thoroughfare; Ballad of the Sad Young Men; Better Go.
Personnel: Alex Nguyen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brandon Lee: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alex LoRe: alto sax, flute; Jeremy Fratti: tenor sax, flute; Matt Zettlemoyer: tenor, baritone sax, flute; Robert Edwards: trombone; Joshua Bowlus: piano; Ryan Rosello: guitar (7); Paul Sikivie: bass; Ben Adkins: drums.
Nimmons 'n' Nine . . . Now
Tracks: Then and Now; It Sounds Like You; But It's Dark . . .; Tipsy; Spirals; Carey Dance; The Black Alley; Just for Now.
Personnel: Jason Logue: trumpet; John MacMurchy: clarinet; Andy Ballantyne: alto sax; Kelly Jefferson: tenor sax; David Mott: baritone sax; William Carn: trombone; Tom Szczesniak: accordion; Mike Cado: guitar; Andrew Downing: bass; Anthony Mitchell: drums.